Sicilians – like all Italians – are highly artistic. The main way to see historic art from the Medieval period, Renaissance and Baroque periods is by visiting the literally thousands of churches, which are all free art galleries packed with works by highly important and famous artists. There are also galleries of historic and contemporary art in all the main cities in Sicily, detailed in any guide book and scores of websites.
The flourishing folk art tradition of Sicily is visible all around you. In ceramics shops you will see traditional patterns and motifs painted on all manner of ceramic objects. The coloured glazes and the firing skills to make these dazzling ceramics were brought to Sicily my the Moors in the 11th century and have been refined gradually ever since.
Every town or region has its own unique style – the most prized ones are Caltagirone and Santo Stefano di Camastro. Both of these towns appear to have so many ceramic art shops that there’s no room for anything else! the two towns of Cefalù and Taormina – both delightful despite swarming with tourists – also have great numbers of beautiful ceramics shops.
THE FOLK ART OF PUPPETS
In Sicilian tradition, the families make puppets and perform classic puppet shows with them. Each puppet is individual and hand made and becomes a beloved member of the puppeteer’s family, with a name and a character. Puppeteers don’t like selling their creations as they are far more than simply artifacts.
You can see a stunning collection, along with traditional puppets from around the world, in the Palermo puppet museum.
Modern art also flourishes in Sicily, no more so than in the semi-derelict town of Favara. The modern art project there is a truly remarkable example of art involving the whole community to raise up a town so economicalyl depressed its buildings are literaly crumbling to rubble.
There’s a modern art drive around the area of Castel di Tusa with modern sculptures dotted about the countryside. They were put there by the pampered and somewhat nutty heir to a construction business empire, who chose to step out of commerce and spend his inheritance sharing his taste in modern sculpture with residents of Sicily’s north coast. Vast amounts of cement are a recurring theme. People either love it or hate it.
He also runs an art hotel, where each room is fully decorated with an art installation by a different Sicilian or Italian artist. You can tour the rooms even if you don’t stay in the hotel. One of the rooms was decorated by a pupeteer and has pieces of puppets, works in progress, all around the room to recreate the home he grew up in.
Renato Guttuso was Sicily’s most famous 20th century artist. His greatest work was “The Vucciria,” a painting of the market, which now hangs in Palermo.
There is also a Renato Guttuso art gallery in my town, called Villa Cattolica, which is beautiful but so badly run I actually gave it the Disgraceful Management Award in 2014. The director stole paintings, she got 2 million euros from the EU to run an exhibition thouroughout which she removed the wheelchair access and put up no publicity whatsoever (not even a sign on the gate) and the front gates are always locked – you have to go to the side entrance and squeeze around the vehicle barrier.
If you can put up with this outrage, the paintings are wonderful and make you realise that Renato Guttuso really ought to be much more famous than he actually is.
VILLA SANT’ISIDORO, ASPRA
This recently opened villa has its original 17th century murals, and a decent collection of oil paintings including two 18th century paintings by Sicilian masters Pietro Novelli and Jusepe de Ribeira, who painted in the style of Caravaggio. You get a guided tour in English included in the modest entry price, and the entire building has an extraordinary and fascinating history.
PALAZZO DEI NORMANNI, THE NORMAN PALACE
Not all the art is religious. The Normal Palace in Palermo houses a distinctly secular collection of images on the chapel ceiling. The chapel called the Capella Palatina is, in my opinion, the most beautiful thing in all Sicily. You literally CANNOT visit Sicily without seeing it.
PALERMO OPERA HOUSE
To celebrate Sicily becoming part of Italy, Palermo Council announced a competition in 1864 to design a new opera house for Palermo. The result is so fabulous, both inside and out, that you can have guided tours during the day even if you don’t fancy listening to the opera.
PALAZZO STERI, PALERMO
Palazzo Steri, in central Palermo, has been used for a great many different purposes over the centuries, and it still is. A large part of it was once the prison, filled with people who crossed paths with the Inquisition during the time of Spanish rule. It is now open as a art gallery, in which you see the pictures scratched onto the walls in a dark stain which looks like blood as they waiting for thir lives to be prematurely ended.
Their soul searching images, and the messages they wanted to be remembered for, make this an art gallery you will not forget.
TO GET YOU IN A SICILIAN MOOD FOR YOUR HOLIDAY
The new comedy novel by Veronica Di Grigoli
AN ENGLISH WOMAN TAKES ON PARENTHOOD, THE MAFIA AND A SICILIAN MOTHER-IN-LAW, ALL AT ONCE
When career-girl Veronica flies to Sicily for a friend’s wedding, she accidentally falls in love with one of the groom’s three-hundred cousins. A year later she has given up her job, house and friends, and is planning her own wedding with her Latin Lover in the shimmering heat of Sicily.
She suspects her seaside dream-villa is being built by the Mafia when the stubbly foreman visits, brandishing a large hammer and demanding more money. In shock, she learns her Sicilian spleen-sandwich and prickly-pear cravings are because she is pregnant. Still reeling, Veronica is challenged to a duel fought with wooden spoons over who is the better woman, when her rosary-flailing mother-in-law starts checking her son’s vests are ironed and inspecting the toilet bowl for subtle skidmarks.
Can resourceful Veronica solve her problems by pitching one adversary against the other?
Join her on an unpredictable journey of hilarity, reckless driving and dangerously large portions of spaghetti in this almost true travel-novel, for people who need more belly-laughs.
TIMES OF SICILY, BOOK REVIEWS
“The diary is filled with biting wit, an astute knack for observation and a powerful sense of determination which makes it a joy to read. Di Grigoli’s strong personality comes out as she deftly sketches out the intricacies of life on the complex island of Sicily at the heart of the Mediterranean.”
“A laugh out loud book about my favourite Mediterranean island. Warmly recommended to all travellers to that Sicily. Just read this for the second time and enjoyed it even more for the author’s wit, her love of the people of the village and the island, and for her acute understanding of the reasons they are what they are. What makes a Sicilian? Ask Veronica, she’ll tell you.”